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Validated vows

Validated vows


I came out as a lesbian in 1978, nearly four years after being ordained a Presbyterian minister. Dividing my time between Rochester, N.Y., and San Rafael, Calif., I've performed hundreds of same-sex marriages. My colleagues at the Presbytery of the Redwoods--which operates 52 churches from Sausalito to the Oregon border--have always accepted this, but when a minister from Washington State lodged a complaint they were forced to bring charges against me.

I immediately called the Washington minister to discuss his concerns. "I believe one's sexual orientation is a gift, and you believe it's a sin," I said, starting from that basic premise. I told him how seriously I take relationships, explaining how I meet with couples--regardless of their sexual orientation--for a year because I want them to have healthy, loving, and committed lives together. I was married to my ex-husband Jim before I came out as a lesbian, and I've been in a committed relationship for 10 years, so I understand that all relationships need love and support.

When the minister refused to withdraw his concerns, my presbytery decided to charge me with violating church regulations, based on two lesbian weddings I had performed in New York and California.

During the trial I explained that I am bound by conscience to use the words couples give me. For a long time I performed "blessings," "commitment ceremonies," and "holy unions." But now a lot of gays and lesbians are saying "marriage." I explained how all relationships are sacred to me, whatever you name them. And I feel a huge responsibility to help couples find the care and support they need.

The two couples named in the charges--Annie Senechal and Sherrill Figuera, and Connie Valois and B.J. Douglass--told their stories at the trial. I can still hear Sherrill saying to the commission, "If you have never been in a place where you've not been accepted, you wouldn't understand."

This is what happens when so many faith communities keep saying "no" even though we keep hearing a resounding "yes" from our higher power, God, our creator--that still, small voice deep inside telling us we are loved and cherished. But the pain of the "no" eats at the "yes" we know to be true. This painful break often means that many of us--for our health and self-esteem--no longer want to be in places that are violent to who we are.

Fortunately, the decision of the Redwoods Permanent Judicial Commission was prophetic and bold. In early March they ruled 6-1 that I had not violated church law by performing same-sex marriages. We finally heard not only tolerance but true acceptance--an invitation to break down the barriers and live out loud. For that moment we heard a resounding "yes." --As told to Lois Pearlman

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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